Lack of Oversight

JAEC is the primary government entity authorized to review and make decisions on Japan’s nuclear R&D programs. While JAEC may advise R&D institutions to revise their goals and schedules, it typically endorses their R&D plans.

In 2001, the Council for Science and Technology Policy (CSTP) was established by the Basic Law on Science and Technology within the reformed Prime Minister’s Office and is chaired by the Prime Minister. Its primary function is to review R&D plans submitted by government agencies. It grades major R&D programs from S (most important) to A, B, C (least important). It is intended to strengthen the Prime Minister’s ability to override agency R&D budgets driven by vested interests. The Monju project received a grade of "S" and the Feasibility Study on Commercialization of Fast Reactor Cycle Systems11 (FaCT) program received an "A" and therefore it is unlikely that CSTP will override development plans for the Monju project or the FaCT program.

Future prospects and major issues

Although the Nuclear Power National Plan set a goal for completion of a demonstration fast breeder reactor by 2025 and commercialization by 2050, there are obstacles that may compromise these goals.

One obstacle is plutonium stockpile management. Japan has more than 46 tons (8.7 tons in Japan, approximately 37 tons in Europe) of separated plutonium in stock, but its MOX recycling program has made little progress. When the Rokkasho reprocessing plant (800 tons heavy metal/year capacity) begins full operation, the stockpile is likely to increase. Since reducing the plutonium stockpile should be a top priority for Japan, breeding is not likely to be an important policy goal for Japan’s nuclear power program.

A second obstacle relates to spent fuel management and its impacts on fuel — cycle technology. Japan has been reviewing various reprocessing and MOX fuel fabrication methods, including pyro-processing technology developed in the United States for reprocessing fast reactor metallic fuel. Historically, spent fuel management, and not plutonium demand, has driven Japan’s reprocessing requirements. If this focus is maintained, it is likely that Japan will build a second plant, using wet technology, to reprocess uranium oxide spent fuel. So far, Japan’s R&D on reprocessing technologies has focused on the classic PUREX process.

If Japan pursues its MOX-recycling plans, spent MOX fuel will accumulate and Japan may want to reprocess this fuel. The technological choice for the second reprocessing plant is a complex policy issue.

A third obstacle is the matter of cost and risk sharing among stakeholders. Overall, it is not clear how much fast breeder reactor fuel cycle programs will cost and who will bear those costs. The Nuclear Power National plan proposes a cost sharing arrangement for a demonstration fast breeder reactor, but future cost sharing arrangements are uncertain. Meanwhile, one of the goals set by the Ministry of Economy, Technology and Industry’s next generation light-water reactor program is to extend the life-times of the reactors to 60-80 years. If this goal is achieved, the need for the fast breeder reactors may not materialize even after 2050.


Japan remains officially committed to the fast breeder reactor and closed fuel cycle systems. However, the fast breeder reactor commercialization date has receded far into the future while the fast breeder reactor R&D budget has been shrinking. Japan’s continued commitment to the fast breeder reactor appears largely driven by socio-political factors affecting Japan’s management of the back-end of the light-water reactor fuel cycle and R&D management. The Nuclear Power National Plan restated Japan’s interests in fast breeder reactor and advanced fuel cycle programs due in part to international developments, especially the GNEP initiative, which has since lost support in the Obama Administration and in the U. S. Congress.